Minnesota-Duluth Women Favored to Repeat as WCHA Champion

MADISON, Wis. – The University of Minnesota Duluth, which swept the national championship, the regular season championship and the WCHA FINAL FACE-OFF title in a memorable streak last season, is the pre-season choice to repeat as Western Collegiate Hockey Association champions in 2008-09, according to league coaches.

This the tenth season of WCHA women’s play and league teams have won the national championship every season, including the inaugural campaign of 1999-2000. The Bulldogs kept the WCHA’s national title streak alive in 2007-08 when they won their fourth national title by defeating two-time defending champion Wisconsin, 4-0, on their home ice in Duluth in the NCAA title game. The victory capped a memorable season for UMD, which went 33-4-1 and also scored an overtime victory over Wisconsin to win the title of the newly-renamed WCHA FINAL FACE-OFF, the league playoff championships.

The Bulldogs received five first-place votes and a total of 47 points in the pre-season poll (the eight league coaches couldn’t vote for their own team). They edged Minnesota, which grabbed two first-place votes, and Wisconsin, which had one first place vote, and had a total of 41 points. UMD, Wisconsin and Minnesota were ranked first through third in the national USA Today/US Hockey Magazine preseason college hockey poll as well.

Ohio State rounds out the top four followed by St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, North Dakota and Bemidji State.

For the second straight season, league-member coaches have picked Minnesota senior forward Gigi Marvin as the pre-season most valuable player. Four other players – Wisconsin forwards Meghan Duggan and Erika Lawler plus Minnesota Duluth goaltender Kim Martin, a Patty Kazmaier finalist last year, and teammate Haley Irwin, the forward who led the league in scoring with 60 points last season – also received votes for preseason MVP.

Minnesota Duluth’s Pernilla Winberg, a forward from Sweden who was Martin’s teammate on the silver medalist Swedish Olympic team in 2006, was voted the league’s pre-season rookie of the year. She received half the votes from the eight coaches. Minnesota forward Jocelyne Lamoureux, Ohio State forward Natalie Spooner, and Wisconsin forward Carolyne Prevost also each received a vote.

The opening weekend of the 2008-09 campaign will occur Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26-27, when Wisconsin hosts Quinnipiac for a pair of regular season games at the Kohl Center in Madison and four other WCHA-member teams play exhibition games. On Friday, Bemidji State hosts University of Manitoba, Ohio State hosts Wilfrid Laurier University, Minnesota entertains the University of Saskatchewan, and Minnesota State hosts the Minnesota Whitecaps. On Saturday, exhibition games have Univ. of Saskatchewan at St. Cloud State, North Dakota hosting University of Manitoba, and the U.S. Women’s Select Team at Bemidji State. Then on Sunday, Sept. 29, the U.S. Women’s Select Team will play at Minnesota.

The battle for the 2008-09 WCHA regular season championship will again consist of a 28-game schedule for each of the league’s eight clubs, with each team playing the other seven four times – twice at home and twice on the road. The opening weekend of league competition – October 10-11 – will have defending national champion and WCHA champion Minnesota Duluth hosting Minnesota, the league runner-up last year, St. Cloud State at North Dakota, and Wisconsin at Ohio State. Minnesota State opens WCHA play at North Dakota on Oct. 17-18 and that same weekend Bemidji State opens league play at home against Wisconsin on Oct. 17. The series concludes on Oct. 18 when the Badgers and Beavers will play in the first ever U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame women’s game in Eveleth, Minn.

The 2008-09 regular season will conclude the weekend of Feb. 20-22.

The conference’s post-season championship tournament will open the weekend of February 27-March 1 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) with a first round, best-of-three series format at campus sites. The No. 1 seeded team will host the No. 8 seed, the No. 2 seed will host the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed will host the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed will host the No. 5 seed. The four first-round winners will then advance to the 2009 WCHA FINAL FACE-OFF at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday and Sunday, March 7-8. On Saturday, there will be two semi-final match-ups at 1:07 pm CT and 4:07 pm CT, with the championship game set for Sunday at 1:07 pm CT.

Following two weeks of WCHA playoffs, the NCAA Women’s Division 1 championship tournament will commence the weekend of March 13-15 at regional sites (TBA), followed by the 2008 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, to be held March 20-22 at Boston, Mass.

Commissioner Sara Martin said the WCHA is the first women’s conference to officially re-introduce the shootout to college hockey, after the option was installed recently by the rules committee. The Central Collegiate Hockey Association also recently announcd plans to use the shootout in it’s men’s game and Hockey East previously had installed a shootout in the mid-90s, and is among the conferences considering re-instituting it. The men’s WCHA has no plans to use the shootout.

An NHL-style three-player shootout will be used to determine a winner for all WCHA games tied after regulation and five-minute overtime.

The NCAA rules and ice hockey committees have allowed conferences the ability to implement this tie-breaker protocol so that every regular-season league game will have a winner while preserving the integrity of the national rankings. Games decided by a shootout will still be considered ties for NCAA purposes so there will be no effect on NCAA records for the purposes of the Pairwise and determining the NCAA tournament field. Bonus points awarded will impact the conference standings only.

The WCHA has also approved the following point system for regular-season play; two (2) points for a win in regulation or overtime, one (1) point for each school if the game is tied at the conclusion of the five-minute overtime period and one (1) point is awarded to the team who wins the shootout. Overtime will continue to be played similar to regulation time with five skaters for each team (penalties excepted).

2008-09 WCHA Coaches’ Preseason Poll
(first-place votes in parentheses)

1. Minnesota-Duluth 47 (5)
2. Minnesota 41 (2)
2. Wisconsin 41 (1)
4. Ohio State 29
5. St. Cloud State 27
6. Minnesota State, Mankato 18
7. North Dakota 14
8. Bemidji State 7

Preseason Player of the Year: Gigi Marvin, F, Sr., Minnesota
Preseason Rookie of the Year: Pernilla Winberg, F, Fr., Minnesota-Duluth